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EPICS in IEEE: Transforming Lives for the Better

EPICS In IEEEE

Past EPICS in IEEE project leaders discuss the far-reaching impacts their successful service-learning projects have had on their target communities and their own lives

The act of “advancing technology for humanity” can have far-reaching impacts — not just for the individuals or communities who benefit from technological innovations, but for those who provide them as well.

This message came across loud and clear in a special EPICS in IEEE webinar on 16 April 2024 entitled Best Practices for Service Learning from Past EPICS in IEEE Project Leaders.  During the webinar, a panel of students and faculty members from around the world shared their experiences leading successful service-learning projects through “EPICS in IEEE.”  This program provides unique opportunities for students to partner with engineering professionals and mentors, technological innovators, and local organizations to address community-based challenges related to the four pillars of 1) access and abilities, 2) education and outreach, 3) human services, and 4) the environment.

Since its launch in 2009, EPICS in IEEE, a donor-supported program through the IEEE Foundation, has facilitated more than 219 service-learning projects in 34 countries and involved over 11,000 students worldwide, nearly half of whom are women.

The informative and inspiring webinar was moderated by Professor Leah Jamieson, Ph.D., President and CEO of IEEE in 2007, President of the IEEE Foundation from 2012-2016, current Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, US, and co-founder of EPICS at Purdue University.

“EPICS has created a unique learning environment where students can invest their whole selves into projects that support their education, encourage them to contribute, and show them how they make a difference,” shared Professor Jamieson in a previous interview about the program.  “This central concept truly reinforces their sense of what it means to belong to a community, local or global, and the role that engineering can play.  And it prepares them to be exceptionally capable, creative, empathetic engineers.”

While they hail from all corners of the globe, webinar panelists Antony Tumwebaze, Bryan Yavari, Jayant Sogikar, and Victoria Serrano, Ph.D. all confirmed that EPICS in IEEE projects have the power to transform the lives of both the communities they partner with and project participants alike.

Impacting Communities

EPICS in IEEE projects have and will continue to partner with communities around the world in a multitude of positive ways, as shown by the following initiatives spearheaded by the panelists:

  • Improving Healthcare and Water Quality — Antony Tumwebaze, IEEE member and then-graduate student at Kyambogo University in Uganda, had the opportunity to lead two EPICS in IEEE projects.  In the first project, his team’s installation of solar-powered electricity and water treatment capabilities at the Itara Health Center in rural Uganda helped enhance the quality of medical care at the facility.  In a second project, Tumwebaze and his team addressed the high volume of plastic waste polluting southwestern Uganda’s River Rwizi, a main source of water for people in the many communities along its path, by establishing a plastic recycling center at the nearby Ankole Institute.

    “Our solar installation provided the hospital with a reliable supply of solar electricity that enables them to operate vaccine refrigerators and other vital equipment, while our creation of a plastic shredder provides the River Rwizi communities with access to clean water,” said Tumwebaze, who currently works as an engineer at Abbott Construction in Uganda.  “These projects have been great successes, and both were possible because of the support received from EPICS in IEEE and the work done by student/IEEE volunteers, partners, and local residents.”
  • Improving Air Quality — After becoming aware of how poor air quality caused significantly diminished lung function among residents within the highly congested capital city of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, Bryan Yavari, a recent Neuroscience graduate at Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ, US), led an EPICS in IEEE project (Project Koyash) to develop an innovative solar-powered air-filtration system that autonomously cleans polluted air in less than an hour.  Designed for use within homes in the community, “our system enables fresh air to circulate and upgrades the air quality in homes to a breathable level,” said Yavari, whose team hopes to eventually provide filtration systems to the more than 800,000 residents of Ulaanbaatar’s Ger district.
  • Supporting the Visually Impaired — “How many Braille books or menus in Braille are actually out there for blind people?” questioned Jayant Sogikar, a former student at the Ramaiah Institute of Technology in Bangaluru, India, who went on to lead a local EPICS in IEEE project to create a portable assistive device in the form of a low-cost wearable designed to help visually impaired/blind users with reading and navigation.  “Thanks to the tools we developed, we’re helping to increase the availability of Braille versions of all written options in hopes of making any visually impaired person’s life better,” said Sogikar, who currently works as a software developer at Oracle in India. 
  • Leveling the Playing Field for Those with Disabilities — Concerned for those who struggled to maneuver through the buildings of Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá in Chiriquí, Panama due to physical or visual disabilities, Professor of Electrical Engineering Victoria Serrano became a faculty leader for a student-run EPICS in IEEE project designed to “close the gap for those with disabilities” (EPICS in IEEE project).  Among other activities, “we created orientation signs in Braille as well as audio devices to help people with visual disabilities navigate different locations, automated doors for people in wheelchairs, and also overhauled a traditional wheelchair so that the individual could use a joystick to transport themselves,” Dr. Serrano said.  This project was made possible thanks to the IEEE Jon Taenzer Memorial Fund of the IEEE Foundation.

Personal and Professional Development

While the positive impacts of EPICS in IEEE projects in communities around the globe are clear, the panelists also confirmed that the personal and professional impact these projects had on both themselves and their teammates was invaluable in a variety of ways:

  • Skills-Building — For Tumwebaze, the analytical, interpersonal, and professional skills that led to success in his teams’ EPICS in IEEE projects will transfer to other projects in the future.  Among lessons learned, “understanding the challenge you’re trying to solve, collaborating with strong partners, and engaging with your community members are keys to success,” he said.  “Through the project, we also gained beneficial skills in communicating and building teams.” 
  • Gaining Strength from Setbacks — Among the many impactful takeaways from his project, Yavari learned that setbacks are inevitable.  “We experienced a lot of setbacks along the way, but the best approach is to keep trying with confidence, motivation, and as much passion for the project as when you first started,” he said.  “It’s about using setbacks as lessons and realizing that without setbacks, you might otherwise accept something that’s not good enough.”
  • Engaging Your Audience — Sogikar learned that having empathy and putting yourself in the position of the community members you hope to partner with leads to better outcomes.  “Based on feedback from project partners who have visual disabilities, for example, we learned that books in English that we planned to convert to Braille might create another barrier to access for our stakeholders because English isn’t a native language in India, a reality which we hadn’t thought of,” shared Sogikar, who confirmed that there’s no substitute for the insights and real-world inputs actual stakeholders can provide to a project’s design.
  • The Power of Giving — According to Dr. Serrano, her EPICS in IEEE project offered invaluable lessons on what it is to be human.  “It’s not just about the technical knowledge you receive in your field, but about giving of yourself and your time,” she said.  “We all learned that giving your time to teach or help others makes you feel good.”

Inspiring Others

“As the heart of IEEE charitable giving, the IEEE Foundation is proud to celebrate EPICS in IEEE’s milestone 15th anniversary and to continue working side-by-side with EPICS in IEEE and our donors to help students leverage their newly acquired technical acumen and local partnerships to solve community challenges,” confirmed Karen A. Galuchie, Executive Director of the IEEE Foundation.

“Grants for EPICS in IEEE projects are possible thanks to generous support from EPICS in IEEE donors and program partners, and we thank the IEEE Foundation for funding this program and all of the student projects worldwide,” concluded Professor Jamieson.  “We hope to continue to inspire other students to learn more about EPICS in IEEE, start their own projects, and join us in helping to advance technology for humanity.”

For more information on EPICS in IEEE or the opportunity to participate in service-learning projects, visit https://epics.ieee.org/.  Interested in helping EPICS in IEEE support more worthy projects while simultaneously investing in the personal and professional growth of the future leaders of the profession?  Contact Danny DeLiberato, CFRE at d.deliberato@ieee.org or call +1 732 562 5446 or make a gift online.

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